EQ&A With John White
After serving Louisiana’s Recovery School District and promoting innovation in New York City schools, John White became Louisiana’s chief executive for primary and secondary education in early January. Together with Gov. Bobby Jindal, he is shepherding Louisiana’s boldest education reforms to date, which focus on school choice, teacher effectiveness and administrative flexibility.
1. You've crafted school reform in New York and Chicago. In your experience, what works best?
Education reforms work when the decision-making power is placed in the hands of folks who are closest to the kids. That can mean teachers working to design or implement curriculum, principals who are empowered to select top staff, or parents who are empowered to select the right school for their children. Reform is about empowerment.
2. Louisiana is introducing statewide education policy changes. What will they bring about?
They will create an environment of innovation and competition in a way that has not historically existed in public education in this country. And they will empower leaders at the school level to have the right people in front of our kids on a daily basis. These are two critical pieces required in a creating a foundation for change. Making change without a mindset of innovation, empowerment and competition and without having the right people doing the work everyday is next to impossible. The plan for education reform in Louisiana goes beyond the legislative package, but without the elements detailed in the package it’s hard to make meaningful change.
3. What have we learned in New Orleans about school improvement and how can it apply statewide?
We’ve thrown out the rules and introduced school choice, competition and innovation close to the kids – that really is the New Orleans mode. There is this perception that New Orleans is a poor city and parents send their kids passively to failing schools; it’s only in other communities where families are involved in their children’s education. New Orleans is just the opposite. There is not a more engaged set of parents in education anywhere. In New Orleans, there is both high autonomy and a high level of accountability. It shows in rising test scores.
4. How will your department work with business and industry to ensure Louisiana graduates are prepared for 21st century jobs?
Our agency is really a “people development” agency and our business is developing people for a future that they are able to define. Anyone coming out of school wants to have a great set of professional choices, and we want to make Louisiana a state that, more than any other state, is preparing them well for the other side of 12th grade. Our plan is to respond to what the workforce demand will be and to make sure our students are ready for the requirements of those jobs.